For the second year in a row, students from Sandpoint High School will travel to New York City in March to participate in a Model United Nations conference. The trip is the culmination of a yearlong course that focuses on international issues including trade, terrorism, poverty and the control of nuclear weapons.
Sandpoint High School teacher Debbie Smith said the 27 students who attended last year came away with not only awareness of international issues but also a significant improvement in public speaking skills.
“They and I really learned how powerful learning through simulation is,” said Smith. “After the conference they had to give class presentations describing their experience and what they learned, and it was amazing how intelligently and comfortably they spoke on the really complicated international issues they debated in their committees, including topics such as weaponization of space, land mines, HIV-AIDS and other illnesses that affect the world.”
The International Relations/Model United Nations class is categorized as a social studies course, incorporating history, geography, government and economics. Through the course the students learn about several international issues while developing skills in public speaking, negotiation and debate.
“They not only spoke about these issues but they also could eloquently discuss the proposed solutions that their committees came up with,” said Smith. “It really would impress any adult who does not realize the potential of high school students to really think.”
The conference is typically attended by students from all 50 states and around the globe. The students will debate on the floor of the United Nations and cover issues which they have researched throughout the year.
The students are assigned one or two countries at the beginning of the year and study world issues as they pertain to those countries. Last year the Sandpoint students were assigned Ethiopia and Djibouti.
“It was eye-opening for the students to see U.S. foreign policy through another country’s eyes,” said Smith.
The cost of this year’s trip is $1,200 per student, $300 of which is funded by a grant from Panhandle Alliance for Education. This year 17 of Smith’s 19 students will travel to New York for the conference.
The first fundraiser will be held Nov. 14 at the Panhandle State Bank’s atrium in downtown Sandpoint. The students, dressed in international costume, will serve hors d’oeuvres, and there will be music performed by different groups including the Sandpoint High Steel Drum Band.
In keeping with the theme, international-food appetizers will be served. There will also be wine, beer and juice available.
The event is not only a good opportunity for students to raise money, but it also offers them an opportunity to educate the community on what they are doing in class and how they will benefit from this trip.
According to Smith, the success of the Model United Nations program requires a significant amount of community support.
“The challenge of fundraising is ever-present and we really need community sponsors,” she said.